LifeProof Case for iPhone 4/4S: Protection Without Bulk

There are those among us whose fingers seems to be eternally slathered with butter, regardless of their proximity to a kitchen or baked goods. They seem to ooze the stuff, and anything they try to hold onto slips from their grasp like the proverbial greased pig, winding up in pieces on the sidewalk.

Some people can’t seem to keep a personal device dry. They could be in the middle of the Mojave Desert in the middle of its dry season with an empty canteen and barely enough body fluids to keep blood flowing yet their electronic devices will, at some point, manage to get sopping wet.

Then there are people who are dirt and dust magnets, real life versions of Charles Schultz’s Pigpen, a Peanuts characters who existed in a cloud of dirt wherever he went. For these folks clean is a (distant) relative state. Their lifestyles are such that they, and everything they own retains a film of dust and grime that orbits them like a personal Oort Cloud.

These people are not characters in a superhero comic (Dust Man! Able to smother his victims with a dust storm!) They do not think of these abilities as a power with which to battle evil. They make every attempt to live normal lives, attempts that are continually thwarted when these abilities manifest themselves.

I have a friend whose mobile phones wind up in the toilet. Not just one or two phones. Every phone she has owned, from early monolithic Nokias to current Samsung flips, develops an overwhelming desire to swim in porcelain. It’s a sad and somewhat unpleasant fact. She wants an iPhone, but fears its seemingly inevitable demise in some public restroom.

There are several options available to keep an iPhone intact. There are cases which guard against impact, bags in which your iPhone can remain dry regardless of the soup its in, cases made of aircraft grade aluminum or graphite ( I assume to guard against drive-by shootings), there are even cases which guaranty that your phone will survive a drop of fifty feet onto concrete (50 ft)!!! The primary focus of these types of cases is extreme protection, and you’d have to be leading a fairly active lifestyle for them to make sense. (I suppose people do take calls while hanging off the side of a mountain or surfing a 20 foot wave. Maybe in my younger days…)

For my friend whose phones have Olympic swim team aspirations, and for those of us leading less extremely active lifestyles, a case that protects against more common spills, dunks, and drops and still leaves the iPhone pocketable and recognizable might be more useful. That’s the thinking that went into the design of LifeProof cases.

The folks at LifeProof say that an iPhone in one of their cases can survive a fall from about 6 feet, a dive to about 6 feet, and all manner of dust, dirt, mud, and gunk.

LifeProof case

The case comes in two pieces, the large piece covers the front and sides and has a gasket around the edge. The back piece snaps onto the front forming an watertight seal. There’s a screw-in plug for the included screw-in headphone adapter. (More about that later.) The dock port has a sealed swing-open door that snaps tightly shut to keep moisture and dust out.

The material that covers the screen is integrated into the case and it allows you to use the touch screen almost as easily as if it were naked.

There are several openings in the case, over mic and speaker areas. The material that covers these openings allow sound the pass through, but not water and dust.

There’s also a glass camera and flash port on the back cover. This means you can take photos and movies with the case on. Purists won’t like another layer of glass in front of the camera, but most folks will be pleased at how little the glass affects photos. In fact, you won’t be so afraid to take you phone to the beach. You can go swimming with your iPhone and use it to take underwater videos, complete with sound! Or, if you’re the athletic type, you can get a set of waterproof headsets and swim laps while listening to music or podcasts.

Unlike other protective cases, when the LifeProof case is on your phone it only slightly increases its size. The case doesn’t rely on padding to protect, instead it is ablative, designed to take a licking so your phone won’t have to. This is why it can be relatively thin and still protect.

LifeProof

It also means that when you do drop your LifeProof covered iPhone it is important that you check the case. The ablative design safely channels the energy from a drop away from the point of impact, which can result in the case separating. This is a good thing, the case “breaks,” but your precious iPhone remains intact. The case easily snaps back together and is ready for more abuse, but if you don’t check it after a drop and it isn’t together then the next drop or dunk may not save you phone from damage.

I learned this the hard way.

I’m almost sure I didn’t check the case between some of the first test drops. As a result the back panel did crack. I replaced the back panel ($30 at an Apple Store. Takes 15 minutes) and dropped the phone well over 30 times since then from varying heights, checking the case each time after a drop.

I’ve had my iPhone 4 encapsulated in a LifeProof case for about 6 weeks now. During that time I’ve tossed and dropped it on concrete, asphalt,and ceramic tile floors, drowned it in tubs of water, and buried it in sand, dirt, and mud and I’m happy to report that my iPhone has survived it all.

Beyond the checks, however, protecting your iPhone while allowing to to be useful has its tradeoffs.

Remember the screw-in headphone adapter and plug? The plug is a dinky affair that can go completely unnoticed if you have Bluetooth headsets and never use a wired set for music listening or conversation. If, however, you do use a wired set then that plug and the wired headphone adapter will become a bit of an annoyance because every time you want to use your headsets you have to unscrew that wee plug (good luck if you have fat fingers because it has small threads, which you have to twist, and twist, and twist…), then screw in the adapter, then plug in your headsets. Done listening or talking? Reverse that process. I know it doesn’t sound like much until you do it several times a day. Leaving the adapter in, which is what I tend to do, puts stress on the wiring in the adapter. Mine has developed a break in the wired and I have to hold it a certain way to listen to music. Not good.

To make matter worse, that little plug is so easy to lose. LifeProof gives you two. Good thing, I lost the first one a day after getting the case. And you need that hole plugged or your case isn’t waterproof. So, if you lose both plug you now must walk around with this dangly wire that looks like a flaccid antenna. Again, not a good thing.

LifeProof

One other annoyance is the dock opening. It is nearly impossible to use any dock cable other than the one that came with your iPhone. They just won’t fit. If you don’t buy the US$19.95 dock extender then using any dockable speakers or other dockable accessories you may have already invested in is out of the question.

These vexations are not major, but they will affect you and how you use your iPhone, and you should be mindful of them.

Bottom Line

You can lay down big money for cases that do an excellent job of protecting your iPhone, but often that protective cocoon makes your phone bulky and tough to use. LifeProof is different. Their case does not add appreciably to your iPhone’s runway model figure, yet it protects from the more common spills, drops, and dunks that often occur to devices belonging to regular Joes and Jills.

It’s not perfect. The small, dark headphone port plug can be a challenge for some to remove and replace, which you may do often if you use a wired headset, and its just waiting to get lost. You also have to carry around the headphone adapter. Something else to lose.

LifeProof now sells two versions of their case. The only difference between Generations 1 and 2 is the extra bumper on the Gen 2 that gives added protection to the volume buttons and ringer switch. The jury is still out on whether it’s worth US$10 for the extra bit of Gen 2 plastic.

Docking, as with most cases, can be an issue, but the dock opening in the LifeProof case may add to your frustration unless you elect to pay extra for the extender.

Even with these irritations a LifeProof case on your iPhone 4 or 4s should keep it safe and ding free while you explore the urban jungle, which is why I can Highly Recommend* this case. LifeProof cases are available at Best Buy and Amazon.

Review ItemLifeProof iPhone Case
ManufacturerLifeProof
List Price

US$69.95 for Gen 1

US$79.95 for Gen 2

Minimum Requirements

All iPhones 4 and 4s

 

* Note: My rating system goes like this;

  • Get it Now! - Highest rating and an absolute must-have
  • Highly recommend - Minor flaws, but a great product
  • Recommend - Flawed, but still a solid product
  • So-so - Problem product that may find a niche market
  • Avoid - Why did they bother making it? A money waster.